The purposes of the present study were (1) to explore and compare the acute effects of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate-intensity continuous exercise (MICE) on neurocognitive performance and molecular biomarkers in late middle-aged and older adults, and (2) to examine the relationships of HIIT/MICE exercise-induced neurocognitive changes with changes in circulating irisin and BDNF levels elicited by different acute exercise modes. Using a within-subject design, twenty-one participants completed an acute bout of 30 min of HIIT, MICE, or a non-exercise-intervention (REST) session in a counterbalanced order. The neuropsychological [i.e., accuracy rate (AR) and reaction time (RT)] and neurophysiological [i.e., event-related potential (ERP) P3 latency and amplitude] indices were simultaneously measured when the participants performed a working memory task at baseline and after an intervention mode. Blood samples were also taken before and after the intervention mode. The results showed that, although ARs were significantly increased only via the MICE intervention mode, the acute HIIT and MICE interventions improved RT performance and increased ERP P3 amplitudes in the late middle-aged and older adults under consideration. Serum BDNF levels were significantly increased with the acute HIIT and MICE interventions, and significant irisin level increases were only observed following the HIIT intervention. However, changes in the levels of Irisin and BDNF pre- and post-intervention were not correlated with changes in neurocognitive performance, with the exception of the correlation between the changes in irisin levels and RTs with acute exercise in the MICE intervention mode. The present findings suggested similar beneficial effects on neurocognitive performance (i.e., RTs and ERP P3 amplitudes) and peripheral BDNF levels following MICE and HIIT interventions in the middle-aged and older adults. In terms of ARs and irisin, the two acute exercise modes appear to induce divergent effects. Irisin may play a potential facilitating role in the neuropsychological (e.g., RT) performance of working memory in such a group. However, the mechanisms remain to be determined.
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